Welcome to Denver, where the elites and working class join hands and celebrate the nomination of Barack Obama for the Democratic National Convention. No flash photos, please, and if you must smoke, please do so at the nearest designated non-smoking area, officially known as Utah.
The theme of this year’s Democratic convention is “One Nation,” a sentiment somewhat contradictory to 2004’s vice presidential candidate, John Edwards. His idea of “Two Americas” presumably includes those in which his wife has terminal cancer and one in which he has a mistress; alas, for Edwards, the times have changed, and those two worlds have now become one.
The selection of Denver as the city for the convention was no accident. Surely, the cold, unforgiving masses of Colorado are rather unwelcome to those Democrats weltering in the south or at least have the benefit of the gentle gusts of wind emanating from Martha’s Vineyard, Puget Sound, or Joe Biden. Colorado is seen as a potential swing state. While Bush and the Republicans have safely won the state over the past few decades, the Democrats have slowly been gaining ground. What used to be the standard-bearer of western rugged individualists has found droves of environmentalists, immigrants, and rich urbanites looking to get away from the exact sort of city they voted to create in the first place settling in and, worse, registering to vote and, even more worse, actually voting.
This year, then, the Democrats are hoping to pick up its nine electoral votes. While small in the grand scheme of the electoral college, it’s a gold mine (quite literally) in the razor-thin election results we’ve seen lately. Someone, somewhere, on hearing about the selection of Biden as the vice presidential candidate, wiped their brow, squeaked a “3” on the dry erase board, and was glad to secure Delaware’s otherwise safe three votes.
This was shaping up to be one of the few political conventions in recent years that might have some legitimate drama. Conventions used to be full of brokered deals: cabinet positions auctions off to the highest bidder, legislation hammered out and agreed to in exchange for favors; party platform statements used to score internal political points but largely ignored by pretty much everyone else in the history of mankind. These slowly drifted away in importance as primaries determined the nominee, and the only thing left to do at conventions was get drunk and accidentally cast vote for Dennis Kucinich.
This year, with the primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama so close for so long, it was rumored that there may be a brokered convention once again, just like the olden times of Eugene McCarthy, Adlai Stevenson, and a long, long, depressing list of extremely capable losers. This trend, as it were, was the impetus for the creation of superdelegates, individuals empowered to vote for whoever they pleased. In effect, this was to ensure a voice within the party apparatus, but, in reality, it was to prevent the Democratic faithful from nominating Walter Mondales for the next 2,000 years, which seems quite likely even today. (The Republicans have no such issue, and no superdelegates; they simply run an auction.)
Obama has also made a historic decision: to give his nomination acceptance speech not at the Pepsi Center, but at Invesco Field, where the Denver Broncos play. This echoes john F. Kennedy’s similar decision when he accepted the nomination in 1960, one of the few ways in which Obama has likened himself to Kennedy. And by “few” I mean “about as many times as John McCain has reminded us that he spent five years in a POW camp.”
Whether the convention will be a grand success, playing on Obama’s strengths while downplaying the historically bitter primary or descending into chaos and strife, remains to be seen. Several protest groups with an unfortunate grasp on exactly the sort of political spectrum they are protesting against have already planned on attempting to create the 1968 convention in Chicago, where Hubert Humphrey got into a fistfight with Mo Udall in the men’s room, and Mayor Daley roamed the floor with a steak knife he stole off of Lyndon Johnson personally garroting anyone he found giving him the ole crook eye.
Ultimately, it is going to be up to Obama to determine how this convention is viewed by the unwashed undecideds. Given that Obama’s campaign theme has been largely about the rather blandly generic terms of “change” and “hope,” it seems rather strange to latch on to another quite lukewarm concept as “One Nation.” While political themes have always been broad and undefined—Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill” could mean the optimism of a renewed America or another damn Starbucks being built next to the dentist’s office—the Obama campaign seems to be striving for optional definitions with a politically constructed premise to be named later. Obama should do what every Democratic campaign in the past century has done: grasp the universal theme of peace, fairness, and pandering to labor unions, environmentalists, and Hollywood. It works every time.